Synopsis: Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. When she receives a diagnosis of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Alice and her family find their bonds thoroughly tested. Her struggle to stay connected to who she once was is frightening, heartbreaking, and inspiring.
Release Date: January 16, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Some movies are horrifying without meaning to be. Over the course of crafting a heartfelt and meaningful narrative, they will remind the viewer of their own fragility and mortality. Still Alice is this kind of movie.
Still Alice stars Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, Children of Men) as Dr. Alice Howland, a linguistics professor who, shortly after her 50th birthday, starts to have trouble with her memory. She and her husband, John (Alec Baldwin from “30 Rock”), consult a specialist, who diagnoses her with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice gets support from her husband and two of her children, daughter Anna (Homefront‘s Kate Bosworth) and son Tom (Hunter Parish from “Weeds”), but still fails to connect with her youngest daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart from the Twilight movies), who is away at drama school trying to become an actress. Alice struggles with her constantly deteriorating condition while trying to stay strong and keep her family together.
Early in 2011, Still Alice writer/director Richard Glatzer (Quinceanera) was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was later that year that he and his partner (both in filmmaking and life), Wash Westmoreland, were approached to adapt Lisa Genova’s 2007 book into the movie that would become Still Alice. Westmoreland has made an interesting connection between ALS and Alzheimer’s, saying that they are polar opposites that have similar crushing effects; ALS attacks the body but leaves the mind untouched, while Alzheimer’s affects the mind while leaving the body alone. Despite the differences in the two afflictions, Still Alice is an incredibly personal film for Westmoreland and Glatzer.
Still Alice is an extremely important film. It’s hard to watch, particularly for those who have had a friend or relative suffer from Alzheimer’s. There are plenty of emotional triggers in the film, whether it’s something as simple as Alice mistakenly placing the soap on the condiment shelf in the refrigerator or as embarrassing as wetting herself because she forgets where the bathroom is in her own house. The film gets even more harrowing as Alice’s condition worsens and she plans out her inevitable end-game. No matter how difficult the film gets, the audience hangs in there; they know that Still Alice won’t have a happy ending, but they’re there to see it through anyway. And that’s why Still Alice is such a powerful movie; you can’t look away.
The narrative in Still Alice is very economical. Glatzer and Westmoreland waste no time getting to the meat of the story, with Alice beginning to show symptoms from the very first scene. This leaves many of the characters a tad underdeveloped, but it’s not really their story; the audience wants to know Alice, and the film obliges them. Julianne Moore’s masterful performance is aided greatly by Glatzer and Westmoreland’s well-written dialogue, words that come off as both natural and emotional. At one point in the film, Alice is asked by her doctor to deliver a speech at a convention. Of course, she hardly has any memory left, so she writes the speech out and jokes about not stopping as she reads so she doesn’t forget where she is. It’s a troubling thought, but treated with humor and warmth. The speech itself is touching and personal, but also as informative as a medical conference speech would have to be. By no means does Still Alice even try to be lighthearted, but the film is written with a type of sensitivity and compassion that softens even the hardest parts of the story.
Julianne Moore has been plagued with some questionable role choices in her career, but even in her “what was she thinking?” movies (like the remakes of Psycho and Carrie), she is usually the best element of the film. Her performance in Still Alice marks a high point in her already distinguished career. Her portrayal of Alice Howland is incredibly moving, simultaneously optimistic and heartbreaking. Her character’s transformation over the course of the film during the progression of her disease is nothing short of stunning. The rest of the cast is competent as well; Alec Baldwin provides the steady rock to which Alice clings while Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parish make the most of their limited roles. Kristen Stewart sports the same vacant, unimpressed facial expressions that have made her an internet meme, but even that works in her favor because of her stubborn, stoical character. These supporting players, however, are all just set-dressing for the woman of the hour. Julianne Moore’s performance in Still Alice should have no trouble earning her an Oscar win.
Cinematographer Denis Lenoir (88 Minutes) does something really interesting with the photography for Still Alice. At first, it appears to be a straightforward narrative, with a warm and sharp look. However, as Alice’s condition worsens, the images become blurrier, emphasizing the fog that surrounds the title character’s life. Lenoir will frequently use a very slow focus technique that illustrates Alice’s mental state – the camera plays to her confusion and her limited understanding of her environment, slowly coming into focus as she is figuring things out for herself. It’s a subtle shift that, under normal circumstances might go unnoticed, but by the third act of the film, the viewer is almost inside Alice’s head. It’s an incredibly effective way to visually push the story along, and it helps the audience relate and empathize with Alice. Again, it’s subtle, but the photography in Still Alice borders on brilliance.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Richard Glatzer
- Screenwriter(s): Richard GlatzerWash Westmoreland
- Cast: Julianne Moore (Alice Howland)Kate Bosworth (Anna Howland-Jones)Shane McRae (Charlie Howland-Jones) Hunter Parish (Tom Howland)Alec Baldwin (John Howland)Seth Gilliam (Frederic Johnson)Kristen Stewart (Lydia Howland)
- Editor(s): Nicolas Chaudeurge
- Cinematographer: Denis Lenoir
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Ilan Eshkeri
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA